Real Leaders

Two Ways to Evolve as a CEO: Ambition or Obligation

Portrait of a mature businessman using a digital tablet in a modern office with his colleagues in the background

In my CEO coaching practice, I have observed that there are two ways to change: Either the CEO is sufficiently ambitious to chase that change, or the CEO eventually feels enough pain to become obligated to make that change.

For obvious reasons, the former is preferred as the latter usually involves an accumulation of pain or collateral damage that forces the change, which ideally is avoided.

Interestingly, probably 75% of CEO-related situations I work within have pain as the provocation. Maybe that’s just human nature? I don’t know.

The nuance here is that, generally, the CEO is aware of the need for change, so recognizing the need to change isn’t the problem. Acting on it, however, seems to be.

‘Staying in the pain’ is a term I often use with CEOs: sitting in the discomfort and dealing with it all the way through. The reasons not to are pretty evident — and we’d all rather be doing things that we’re naturally drawn to, and find fun.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the world that you, as a CEO, lives in. External stimuli will only increase given the unpredictability of the world around us, so there will inevitably be parts of your business that you will have to intervene in, regardless of your appetite to do so.

My wish for you is to get ahead of the game, recognize what needs your attention, and dive energetically into changing what needs to be changed – driven by ambition rather than obligation.

There’s something that’s really enjoyable (and relieving) about getting a source of the strain off your desk.

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